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Supreme Court rules Colorado Exoneration Act violates due process

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] held [opinion, PDF] in Nelson v. Colorado [SCOTUSBlog materials] on Wednesday that Colorado's Exoneration Act [text, PDF] is not in accord with the Fourteenth Amendment's [LII, text] guarantee of due process. The Act permits Colorado to retain the fees paid in conviction-related assessments unless the exonerated defendant can prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in a civil suit. Colorado argued that the Act provided sufficient means for a defendant to seek compensation for the loss of liberty. This is different from most jurisdictions which automatically refund those who have been acquitted. The Court contended Colorado's argument stating, "Just as restoration of liberty on reversal of a conviction is not compensation, neither is the return of money taken by the State on account of the conviction." The Act's scheme, the Court went on, "creates an unacceptable risk of the erroneous deprivation of defendants' property."

The court heard arguments [JURIST report] for Nelson v. Colorado in January. Certiorari was granted to petitioners Shannon Nelson and Louis Alonzo Madden. Nelson was convicted on two felonies and three misdemeanors in relation to the alleged sexual and physical abuse of her children. In addition to being sentenced 20 years to life, she was ordered to pay $8,192.50 in costs, fees, and restitution. Her conviction was reversed on error and upon retrial she was acquitted of all charges. Madden was imposed an indeterminate prison sentence and ordered to pay $4,413.00 in costs, fees, and restitution. Once their convictions were overturned, both moved for return of the funds. The Colorado Court of Appeals [official website] ruled that both were entitled to seek refunds. The Colorado Supreme Court [official website] reversed on the grounds that because neither petitioner filed their claim under the Exoneration Act, they were not entitled to refunds.

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